The phrase “art is subjective” really seems to hit home with the horror genre as much as any other type of movie. What makes a great horror movie? Is it the one that scares us the most? The one that has the best performances or best direction and cinematography? Is it the goriest or the one with the best practical effects? Or is it the best one at using horror elements to comment on the social issues of its time? The answer is simply yes. Yes to all because horror is subjective. We can count the beats, the number of jump scares and rate the overall quality of the film, but ultimately what makes a great horror movie is its effectiveness on the viewer.
So, to determine what I feel are the best of the best horror films of all time, I set a few rules for myself. Of course, critical reception, importance to and influence on the genre were part of the process. I also limited myself to only one movie from an original series so I wouldn’t put all the Friday the 13th films on here. I did allow myself to add remakes and a film from a rebooted series, however. The last and most important rule is simply my personal freakin preference.
This is the 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time!
100. Gojira (1954)
The original and still one of the best of the massive creature films ever. Gojira is an interesting post-war commentary as the King of Monsters represents the fallout of nuclear holocaust in the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly a decade earlier. Created as a consequence of the bombs and radiation, Gojira rises to wreak havoc upon mankind. This would go on to spawn one of the longest-running movie series in history for a total of 33 films that would be recognized by the Guinness World Records. The legacy is still being felt today.
99. The Blob (1988)
A meteorite crashes outside a small town in California where a homeless man finds the weird-looking sphere where some type of slime attaches itself to his hand causing agonizing pain. Three high schoolers find the man and transport him to the hospital where the slime begins to grow as it dissolves whatever it touches. A remake that is much more entertaining than it’s predecessor that embodied ‘80s horror with some stunning effects and some fun gore.
This remake doesn’t work if they don’t get the cheesiness and tone just right and they did that effectively. This is a fun and entertaining film where you are actually rooting the victims on which isn’t always the case in horror. The Blob is one of the best examples of a good time popcorn horror flick.
98. Tremors (1990)
Jaws but on land with underground type shark creatures! They don’t make practical effect creature features like this anymore. The monsters are scary looking and some of the best creatures on film. Director Ron Underwood does an admirable job of blending comedy with toe-curling scares. Add in a who’s who of late 80’s early 90’s actors in Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Victor Wong, Michael Gross with others and you have a fun cast who play off each other well.
Tremors is just good old fashion fun that harkens back to creature features of the ’50s. What makes this one even better than most is that it focuses on the characters and storytelling over-stylized creatures and cheap scares. The effects and comedy still hold up almost 30 years later. It makes me wish we got that Tremors TV show…
97. Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning’s controversial revenge thriller is a horror film that could never be made, remade, or even replicated these days without all sorts of people getting triggered. But the movie earns a place in horror history for employing actual circus “freaks” as its ensemble cast. It’s a brutal, bitter, and cold-hearted piece of genre cinema and one that any new horror fan should experience at least once.
While Browning’s shocker is now considered a horror classic, it was not so well-received at the time of its release. Reviews criticized the film for being repulsive and offensive. Simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, Freaks is the ultimate revenge tale coupled with a kind of sweet story about the importance of friendship and solidarity that has thankfully found an audience in the 85 years since its release (though the original 90-minute cut has been lost, leaving only the existing 64-minute version).
96. The Invitation (2015)
Will and his new girlfriend are on the way to Will’s ex-wife, Eden’s, house for a dinner party with their old friends and her new husband, David. Will and Eden divorced over the grief of the accidental death of their young son. This will be the first time the group of friends will be together in over two years. As Will deals with reliving moments of his past life with Eden and their deceased child, he begins to realize things aren’t what they appear to be.
This is an intense and claustrophobic closed room type of thriller with some standout performances. Logan Marshall-Green plays Will as a tortured soul trying his best to move on and there is the always fantastic John Carroll Lynch who does John Carroll Lynch things. Director Karyn Kusama does an incredible job of creating an uneasy atmosphere while having the ability to keep you on your toes the whole time up until a very somber ending that makes the event even more terrifying.
95. Dracula (1931)
The most iconic and notable version of Dracula on screen that would go on to define the character even now, almost a hundred years later. For Halloween, kids dress up as this version of Dracula with most movie vampires having similar qualities and mannerisms to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. And this is Lugosi’s movie. He holds your attention whenever he is on screen with you only seeing the character and not the actor. It’s easy to hold this film in high regard as it is one of the first Universal Monster movies while it highlighted some early filming techniques with lighting and atmosphere.
94. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
There aren’t too many Western horror films out there and I went back and forth about adding it to the list because it takes some time to get to the horror, but when it does get there, you are left with a sickening feeling in your stomach like most good horror films. So, it makes the list. This would be a great Western by itself with director S. Craig Zahler telling an intriguing story with compelling characters. Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox all turn in fine performances, but it is Richard Jenkins as Chicory that steals the show. Well, until the hurting begins. They are on missions to save some captured settlers from a group of cannibal savages.
Zahler harnesses his inner Tarantino by giving us something unexpected that just slaps you in the face. Before you know what’s hit you, you are picking your jaw off the floor from the brutality you have just experienced. So, yea it’s a horror movie.
93. Fright Night (1985)
This horror-comedy works so well because it is able to blend several old-school horror tropes with the entrancing ‘80s vibe. Writer-director Tom Holland does a wonderful job of giving us laughs and frights by parodying Hitchcock and John Hughes movies while giving us relatable characters.
A seductive vampire (played perfectly by Chris Sarandon) moves in next door to awkward teenager Charley Brewster who makes it his mission to rid the neighborhood of this monster. He enlists the help of scene-stealer Roddy McDowell, who pays homage to icons like Peter Cushing and Vincent Price as a vampire-slaying TV show host. McDowell’s Peter Vincent is the emotional heartbeat of the film as we see him go from coward to hero.
92. It Follows (2014)
I struggle with this one. The score and atmosphere are top-notch as is the technical side of things. It just didn’t land with me, but I can recognize its value to horror by bringing something fresh to the genre and being a standout film in this modern era of horror. I enjoy movies where you can’t really place the era it is taking place and writer/director David Robert Mitchell does a solid job of building the world of It Follows.
After a strange sexual encounter with her new beau, Jay has an unsettling realization that after having sex with this particular gentleman caller will change her life forever. After the engaging opening, we get an inventive slasher haunting film that is non stop with the incredible score pulsing in the background throughout. The best horror films have something to say outside, or inside depending on how you look at it, of the killing and the horror. It Follows is no different and that is perhaps its best quality. This is a film you can have conversations about afterward.
91. The Host (2006)
The first of several South Korean horror films to make this list with The Host being the most fun and one of South Korea’s most successful films. The plot is simple enough as a man’s daughter is kidnapped by a huge river monster and we follow his attempt at trying to rescue her. But what makes this more than your average creature feature is its brilliant writing by giving us a comedy with a dysfunctional family and a side of political satire all wrapped in a horror thriller. There are not a lot of movies that are able to successfully go from horror to slapstick back to horror quite like the great director, Joon-ho Bong does in The Host.
Essentially, what makes The Host even scarier is its premise that we are the ones who created this monster and can’t control or stop the damage it causes. Under the horror and comedy is a somber message to the viewer, if you are paying attention.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror films? Maybe they will show up further on the list!